ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O'Malley will sign his state's same-sex marriage bill into law on Thursday, but an effort to repeal the legislation and send it to a November referendum is under way.
Opponents of the bill, which would make Maryland the eighth state to legalize gay marriage, said Wednesday they hope to receive state permission as soon as next week to begin circulating a petition to suspend the legislation.
Petitioners would have until June 30 to collect 55,736 validated voter signatures to force a statewide referendum. However, the state Board of Elections and state's attorney general must first verify that the language in the petition satisfies all Maryland laws.
The petition effort will be led by a group of House lawmakers and the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which lobbied heavily against the bill. Organizers filed their petition with the state last week.
"If we can get it printed by [next] Sunday, we'll be in churches on Sunday," said Derek McCoy, the alliance's executive director.
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue have acknowledged that the gay-marriage law will likely go to referendum in Maryland, where recent polls have shown residents are split almost evenly on the issue.
Gay-marriage opponents will borrow a page from last year's successful petition effort against the Maryland Dream Act, which gathered more than 100,000 signatures in opposition to the bill. It would allow many college-aged illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates.
The referendum question is already on the 2012 Maryland ballot, and the one on gay marriage could be added if the petition drive is successful.
Last year's drive owed much of its success to mdpetitions.com, a website that allowed residents to download and distribute their own copies of the petition.
Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington Republican, led the effort and said this year's drive will include a downloadable petition that will be made available on the Maryland Marriage Alliance's website.
Petition supporters said there is wide concern about gay marriage and it stretches beyond political, racial and regional boundaries.
"Allow the people of Maryland to have their voices be heard," said Delegate Jay Walker, Prince George's Democrat. "I think that's a basic principle of government and what the people have sent us here for."
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